Does DEI focus too much on black people?

Are Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Efforts Focusing “Too Much” on Black People? This question, or an iteration of it, has been asked ad nauseam on LinkedIn lately. Is there too much focus specifically on black employees? This survey deserves further analysis. DEI as a field/industry saw a surge in interest after the murder of George Floyd. CNBC reported in January 2020, the demand for diversity and inclusion professionals was expected to increase. Prior to 2020, the #MeToo movement had led to more discussion about gender equity and the ways in which abuse of power manifests. Then came the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd; the focus became racism, anti-blackness, and the specific prejudices the black community faced. Over the past two years, we have seen companies pledge millions and billions of dollars to fight racial injustice and systemic racism. Despite the exorbitant donations that have been distributed by corporations, black employees and other racially marginalized employees continue to experience exclusion, harm, and trauma from organizations and institutions.

DEI has evolved and transformed greatly over the past few decades. Interest in diversity education grew in the 1960s following the civil rights movement. The movement began as a way to advocate for justice and equality for African Americans. In 1964, the passage of Title VII Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against any person belonging to a protected class. Many organizations have embraced diversity education as a way to avoid litigation. Over the years, when you look at what diversity education has focused on, there has never really been a specific, explicit focus on black employees and their unique experiences until George Floyd. Prior to George Floyd, black people were considered part of the people of color subgroup. Some argue that DCI efforts that focus on blacks fail to consider other communities that experience marginalization. But when you peel back the layers and look at each marginalized community, those who are black or have a closeness to black in these marginalized communities suffer the most severe forms of subjugation.

In all cultures and societies around the world, blackness, black adjacency, or black closeness leads to negative outcomes. Indigenous Australians (formerly called Aborigines) experience some of the harshest forms of racism and discrimination in Australia. Indigenous Australians are darker skinned and have a phenotype which is closer to African. A article published earlier this year revealed that Indigenous Australians with disabilities experience racism on a systemic level. Similar results were found for Latin Americans. A majority of American Latinos feel skin color impacts life experiences, Pew 2021 research finds report. Outside the United States, a multitude of evidence suggests that Afro-Latinx and darker-skinned Latinx people in Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Latin America experience systemic prejudice within their families, schools, communities, and working lives.

In India, the caste system is a 3000 year old social hierarchy that is still used in some parts of the country today. In this stratification system, there are four main categories that signify a person’s social class. There is a fifth caste, which was tagged as “the untouchables”, because “their occupations and ways of life generally brought them into contact with such impurities”. Although India prohibited caste discrimination, vestiges of which still exist today and those of the “upper castes” often enjoy more privileges. Although skin color is not always indicative of a person’s specific level within the caste system, to research indicates that specific patterns were found when examining skin pigmentation and caste; those with lighter skin tones tended to be in higher castes and those with darker skin tones in lower castes. Some have underline caste prejudice as the reason there is a disdain for darker skin tones in India.

Outside of India, in many other East Asian countries, darker skin is associated with “field work and rural poverty,” wrote Ana Salvá in a 2019 article for The diplomat. In many countries in Asia and Africa, bleaching and whitening creams are extremely popular. Afro-Palestinians also face harsher discrimination because of their nationality and race. Nisreen Salem spoke about the discrimination she faced as an Afro-Palestinian from Egypt in a interview earlier this year. Salem shares that she was made fun of because of her hair and skin color. Within any marginalized community you can name, people who are black or close to black people experience the most severe forms of harm. Black transgender and gender non-conforming people experience some of the highest levels of discrimination within the LGBTQIA+ community. If you look at the life outcomes of mothers, black women in the United States have maternal mortality rate than their counterparts. Even studying the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, African Americans had some of the worst results compared to their Asian, Native American, Latino, Pacific Islander, and white counterparts in the United States

As this article points out, black people around the world experience the most severe forms of oppression. All DEI interventions created must be designed with the most vulnerable community in mind. DEI practitioners should consider adopting the triage method that Amira Barger discussed in a recent article. In health and medicine, the triage method focuses on helping the most seriously injured patients first. When have DCI’s efforts ever focused exclusively on black people? When DEI strategies are developed, they should be designed with the most harmed employees in mind. Developing interventions, for example, aimed at attracting and retaining black employees, will benefit everything employees. Focusing on the most marginalized community does not mean that focus and attention is “taken away” from other marginalized communities. The assumption that DCI’s efforts focus “too much” on blacks overlooks the fact that blacks exist within all marginalized community. Within these communities, be it the disability community, the LGBTQIA+ community, the neurodivergent community and so many others, black people suffer the most harm. DEI efforts to have to focus on justice-oriented and liberating interventions for the most aggrieved and oppressed employees; interventions designed with these goals in mind will directly and indirectly benefit every employee. DEI is not a zero-sum game. A victory for the most oppressed community benefits all other oppressed groups because all of our oppressions are interconnected.

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